Sarah E. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Potomac School in Virginia.
While I was first applying to the Campus Reporter program in my hotel room next to the Boston airport, I wrote down a few questions that I thought I would be ready to answer once I got home. Reading it all again now feels surreal because I thought I would have about three more months of experience to be prepared to finally answer myself. However, here we are, middle of April and it's time to wrap up my entire experience with an 800 word limit. So, here goes nothing:
Who will I meet?
SYA is such a bonding experience in so many ways. 60 American kids in the middle of a strictly Spanish-speaking city, far from their homes with no idea of what to expect. Living abroad brings so many challenges, whether it be school related or simply that feeling of doubt where you wonder if you’re really capable of succeeding in such a challenging environment. However, what kept me going when these feelings of doubt crept in was the support of my SYA friends. I realized that though I might have felt isolated from the comfort of my friends and family back in the states, I had a whole class of people to lean on who were experiencing the same feelings and dealing with similar obstacles. I never would’ve expected how fast we’d get to know each other and how close we’d all become. Over the past six months, I’ve made such genuine and long-lasting friendships with people and I am incredibly grateful to this program for making it all possible.
How will I handle having most of my classes in Spanish?
One thing that hit me once classes began at SYA was that your Spanish speaking ability not only affects your performance in whatever level of Spanish you place into, but your participation and understanding in all of your other electives. The first month was definitely the most difficult, but just as the teachers explained to us, the experience you gain from speaking the language outside the classroom with your host family or sports team all adds up. By winter time, I could sit in class effortlessly listening while taking notes like I normally would back home. My teachers were very understanding and were also adamant about making sure we were understanding things correctly, but it took a lot of perseverance on my part to feel comfortable struggling instead of letting my frustration hold me back from my growth in Spanish.
Will I get along with my host family?
The host family component of SYA was one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of the program for me. The transition of moving to another country combined with adjusting to a whole new family dynamic was certainly daunting, but from the first conversation with my host dad in the car to my new home, when he told me how much he respected my decision to take such a big risk, I felt a sense of relief to be so welcomed into my new family. In my case, I was the first American student that my Spanish parents had hosted, but my host mom promised me at the start of the year that she would make sure I went home bilingual. I shortly realized this meant grammar lessons at every dinner, and though I was often frustrated with my mistakes at the beginning, I am so thankful for her efforts to teach me and the effect that it had on my language ability. Not only did my host family make an effort to teach me Spanish, but they included me in all their family activities. My host mom was always there for me when I felt homesick, and my little brothers always found a way to get me out of studying whether it was kicking soccer balls into my room or challenging me to a game of Clash of Clans (Spanish version of course). I spent two hours every week teaching English to them, which allowed us consistent quality time together that I am very thankful for. Now that I’m back home I still continue to talk to them through video calls. My host family was a crucial part of my SYA experience and they kept me grounded throughout the year.
How will SYA change me?
I honestly did not realize how much of an impact SYA had on me until I returned home. Looking back on everything I’ve done over the past six months has made me aware of how much I’ve grown. Coming out of this experience, I feel so much more confident doing things on my own. In order to persevere throughout the school year, my reaction to adversity had to change. I was forced to think realistically and constructively rather than letting my negative thoughts and doubts take over. SYA has changed my mindset and encouraged me to embrace unfamiliarity, something I never understood the value of until I found myself with no other choice. I discovered the importance of taking advantage of all opportunities, and I am extremely grateful for the impact it has had on who I am inside and outside the classroom.
I want to say thank you to my SYA Spain class, amazing teachers, wonderful host family, and the Campus Reporter program for having such a positive impact on my experience. And to future SYA applicants, I hope these answers are helpful!
- Campus Reporters
- SYA Spain